Finding Spiritual Direction
“… As far as Buddha Nature is concerned, there is no difference between sinner and sage… One enlightened thought and one is a Buddha, one foolish thought and one is an ordinary person.” – Zen Patriarch Hui Neng
Finding and developing a spiritual practice including meditation, mindfulness, and Buddhism is not an easy, effortless, simple path. Each one of these three aspects asks us to pay attention on purpose to the instructions given, who is transmitting them, and committing to follow them while discerning their effect upon us.
The first and most essential thing we need to be aware of is, if we are attracted to this spiritual direction, if it offers well-being, ethical honesty, kindness to ourselves and others, and clarity of mind and heart.
Making Friends with the Earth
When I was 26 years old I took my first backpacking trip into the Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains to a place called Kings Canyon National Park. Everything about this trip was prophetic, in terms of the direction my life would take.
Learning to put 45 pounds on my back and walk on rugged rocky trails up steep mountain paths literally took my breath away as I felt I might pass out with each elevation gain. Needing to stop and regulate my breathing about every 15-20 minutes took away any tendency towards rushing to get where we were going. Symbolically, as I scaled each vista “my breath was taken away’ by the snow filled passes and awe inspiring panoramas I met as we crossed over and dropped into “Dusy Meadows”. This landscape was filled with rocky outcroppings and blanketed by beds of colorful wildflowers. I could not believe my eyes as the high vibrational air, crystalline running stream beds, and wondrous gothic-like spires and towers appeared before me. My thoughts were filled with dream like fantasies and the closest to real life fairy tales.
In this wonderland of sorts I had my first experience meditating. Each morning when we awoke we got some tea together, water, a small propane stove and ambled up the boulders backgrounding our encampment and sat next to towering trees and cascading water and falls. It was here that I learned to be still, like an animal, be alert to all my senses, not speak for several hours and close my eyes to listen to the sounds of flying birds, rushing waters and the fragrance of plants, woodlands and wind. This was my introduction and initiation into the power and forces of nature and meditation.
Mindfully Being in the Body
“There is one thing that, when cultivated and regularly practiced,
leads to deep spiritual intention, to peace, to mindfulness and clear
comprehension, to vision and knowledge, to a happy life here and
now, and to the culmination of wisdom and awakening. And what is
that one thing? It is mindfulness centered on the body”.
The Buddha from the Satipatthana Sutta
Embodied presence is the word that most captures the state of awareness that brings us into our bodies in a conscious way. The Buddha said that the foundational level of mindfulness is being in tune and in touch with the myriad of sensations that occur in our body, moment by moment. When these sensations are coupled with an experience of making contact with the weight, the force of gravity, and the experience of grounding in the body, it brings awakening alive within us.
Recognizing the touch of the body, making contact with the ground beneath us, or one body part touching another is a way to stabilize our attention and mind in the body. Bringing openness and curiosity to pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral feeling tones in the body helps us discern if the body language is calling for softening and ease, or if the body is maintaining a relaxed and peaceful feel, or if we are residing in a place of balance and evenness. This information provides the choice of how to be with different sensations, and reveals the way we are connected to all parts of body and being.
Bringing Harmlessness to Ukraine
When Siddhartha Gotama Buddha was seventy-two and Ananda (his confidant and attendant) was forty-two, the unification of the sangha was threatened in a province called Rajagaha. Ananda’s older brother, Devadata, was the primary instigator in this. He is a Judas figure in Buddha legend. In the Pali Canon, he is viewed as a weak, self-serving villain. Although he had been a part of the Buddha’s entourage for thirty-seven years, and knew that in the Gotama’s demise there was no one chosen to succeed him, he tried to overtake the Buddha’s rulership.
At a public teaching Devadata stands, comes forward, bows respectfully, and says to Gotama, “Sir, you are old now. May you now be content to dwell in ease here and now. Hand over the community of mendicants to me.” The Buddha’s response is swift and hard, denouncing Devadata as one “whose nature has changed and that whatever he says or does should no longer be regarded as having the sanction of himself, the dharma, or the community, he is no longer trustworthy.
“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete”. – Jack Kornfield
When we feel vulnerable, troubled, when there are any kind of difficulties, pain and sorrow, fear or anger, compassion is the natural arising of our aware heart and mind. It is a natural response. When we see another in pain or anguish, we naturally want to help in some way. We feel ourselves in them and there is an empathetic connection. In Buddhism, the response to suffering is called “the trembling or quivering of the heart in the face of suffering”. This is a universal experience. It was compassion for others that caused the Buddha to teach.
“To learn to live with sympathy for others without hesitation” – The Buddha
The first step in developing true compassion is to recognize, acknowledge and be open to the fact that pain and sorrow exist – that suffering is present. Then one must have the courage to feel what they feel and the tenderness to be open and to be vulnerable rather than hide from suffering, avoid it, run away, and bury ourselves in distractions.
Protection, Jizo, Mothers and Children
Recently my husband and I went to visit my son and daughter-in-law who are expecting their first child shortly. The energy in their home is alive with making way for the new baby girl. The Baby shower has brought them gifts to supply them with all the necessities and more, for the arrival of this special being. It feels as if the world is narrowing around them to support mother, father and child as she makes her journey from the safety of the womb to the outside world.
When I was walking in Kyoto, Japan in 2006, I saw small stone statues shaped like children or depictions of Buddha. These are depictions of Jizo (地蔵/womb of the earth) and made in the image of Jizo Bosatsu, guardian deity of children and travelers; they are also known as the ‘earth bearer’. We also see them depicted holding a baby in their arms.
While many of these may seem like mischievous forest sprites, moss-covered and popping up from between trees, wearing a red hat, at the most unusual locations, their real identity tells a different story. Jizo Bosatsu is a kind and patient deity, and so the statues do fine with standing under rainwater, sometimes being eroded and covered in moss. Jizo statues are made out of stone, which is said to have a spiritual power for protection and longevity that predates Buddhist beliefs. These jizo statues come from the Zen Buddhist tradition.
Buddhism, Science and Climate Change
“At the heart of good science training is cultivating a disciplined mind with astute capacities for observing the world outside the self. At the heart of Buddhist training is cultivating an attentive mind with astute capacities for self-observation.” Stephanie Kaza, Green Buddhism.
Recently the Dalai Lama said that if science shows something to be scientifically true then Buddhism will find a way to integrate it. More and more there is a co-joining of the facts of scientific findings and the early teachings of the Buddha. It is both useful and important to see how they cross over and can support one another and the ways they may be similar and different.
As we walk into 2022 it becomes more essential to see with an honest and clear mind the many co-relationships that are literally breaking, burning, flooding down the door, displacing us from our homes and causing unnecessary stress, hardship, and suffering until we find a new dwelling place. The destruction is in billions of dollars. The latest devastation being the tornado that whipped through six states and demolished valuable resources, flora and fauna. Do we really have to wait till all the government fact checkers analyze the cause of this “act of God” before we accept and affirm it is another manifestation of a rapidly changing earth climate?
Remembering Gratefulness and Generosity
“I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
Emotions and Mindfulness
Here I will repeat a dialogue which took place between King Kosala and his Queen, Malika. Once the king asked the queen: “Is there now Malika, anyone dearer to you than you?” “There is no one, Sire, dearer to me than myself. To you, Sire, is there anyone dearer than you?,” asked the queen. “Nor to me either, Malika, is there anyone dearer than myself.” Then the king went to Buddha and told him of this conversation. The Master uttered a stanza which may be translated like this:
“We traverse the whole wide world with our thoughts, but find nothing in it dearer to man/woman than themselves. Since to everyone self is so dear, let not the self-lover harm others.”
Autumn Awareness and Seasonal Impermanence
Many of the spiritual arts in Japan such as calligraphy, tea ceremony, archery, aikido, pottery, and lacquerware are associated with autumn, this time of the year when ‘letting go’ pervades the air. In Japan, this season rolls around with a color and intensity that is rare to see, especially in urban settings where air pollutants have diminished the brilliance of the hues. And fall is represented by the turning colors of maple trees. Bright green maple leaves slowly transform into a golden, then bright red. In Japanese, this stunning red foliage is called momoji.
But in this transitional period, as days shorten and temperatures cool (slowly in the southwest US) we are also fortunate to experience the abundance of the summer’s child : the fall harvest! How interesting that in the process of decline we first fill up.